I was my parents’ principal caregiver for ten years. I have first-hand experience in helping aging parents, dealing with family dynamics, protecting parents from elder abuse and working with public and private organizations. My father died of cancer in 2005 and my mother died of Alzheimer’s in 2008. My mother-in-law died in 2011.
Words can barely describe the depth of loss I felt when my father died. I believe that I cried every day for at least a couple of years. My life felt so empty and so alone. I really did not know how I was going to get on with my life. Every night I would take my two dogs for their last trip outside before heading to bed, I would just cry, and talk with my Dad.
Many times my conversations with him were just cries for the way things use to be. He meant the world to me, and I really could not image my life without him. While my heart was broken with his loss, I still had the responsibility to help care for my Mother who lived in a specialized care facility for people with advanced Alzheimer’s. I gladly visited her, almost every day, over several years. I closely monitored Mom’s care and did everything possible to make her life safe and pleasant. Although the Alzheimer’s was quite advanced, she always knew me. I will always be thankful for that.
Through my “years of tears” I started to combine the tears with thoughts about how to help myself and others who were missing their parents. I knew that my father would not have wanted me to be so sad or spend the rest of my life crying.
I bought many books about grief and took a few ideas from each one. The books helped but there was still something missing. Traditional face-to-face grief support groups did not appeal to me but I knew I needed something. I searched the Internet but was not able to find what I was seeking.
I realized that I needed something different and decided to create it myself. It took months of thinking and planning, and gradually, my days were filled with ideas instead of tears.
My imagination awoke to the possibility of learning from people who had lost their parents twenty or thirty years ago. What could they teach me? How wonderful and exciting it would be to learn from people from other places and cultures. What could be learned from a First Nations person, or someone from China? A new journey was beginning.
While walking my own journey, I thought I could also reach out to others who were starting their own journeys of learning to cope with their parents’ declining health and eventual deaths by offering my support. Over the years, I had learned a lot about dealing with parents with declining health.
Many days I was honoured to do what I did. Many days I went out of my mind.
I knew I could help others.
The answer was simple: an Internet-based community could offer support and education to people who are coping with the declining health or death of a parent, family member or friend. With the help of friends and family, we launched our registered charity in October 2008.
From a place of seemingly impenetrable loss, I learned to move to where I can take a chance on living again. My life is full and I work on things that matter to many. I have a new beginning and my parents are with me, watching over me, and helping me. Even though the loss remains, I have learned that there are people and projects that bring greater meaning to my life.
Today my life is full & I work on things that matter to many.
Our charity’s technology-based projects include:
-Protecting seniors from elder abuse 2010
-Celebrating family caregiving diversities 2011
-Wellness for family caregivers 2011- 2012
-Preventing elder abuses 2012 – 2013
-Active & healthy living for disabled older adults 2012 – 2014
-Golf for family caregivers 2013 -2014
-The Power of Attorney Project 2014 – 2016
-Successful retirements 2015 – 2016
-Older Caregivers Cafes 2016 – 2017
-Caregiving Connections 2016 – 2017
-The Estate Planning Project 2017 – 2019
-The ABCs of Caregiving to Seniors 2018 – 2019
Prior to being my parent’s caregiver, I worked in the computer industry for 18 years in various sales and marketing roles. 10 of those 18 years were with Microsoft.
PS: The photo above is of my parents. My mother has her arms around my father’s waist, on a motorcycle!